The Sanskrit word Ayurveda literally means “Knowledge of life”. Stemming from this affirmation, the underlying principle of Ayurvedic Medicine is that you are capable of taking charge of your own life and healing. Simply, this concept offers a philosophy where individuals are able to prevent unnecessary suffering and live long and healthy lives. Ayurveda includes sound nutritional counseling, herbal medications, exercise, meditation as well as encompassing other forms of therapy.
It is a completely patient-oriented system, rather than the disease-oriented system of our traditional Western medicine.Some of the beliefs encompassed by Ayurveda include the following: Individuals should rise with the sun, followed by meditation and exercise.Exercise is done in the morning, before bathing, and the intensity is dependent upon the body type. Ideally, individuals should exercise at their capacity, with the preferred method being yoga.After exercise the individual cleanses their tongue, using a special instrument to freshen the mouth and stimulate the digestive enzymes.
Prior to bathing, Sesame Oil is massaged into the nostril to keep the passages moist.A hot bath will then relieve fatigue, clean the body and improve the appetite.Practitioners also recommend specific diet plans for different diseases and constitutions, while recommending that we stay away from alcohol, tobacco or other recreational drugs completely.The basics of Ayurvedic medicine propose that there are three distinct body types, all of which have their own strengths and challenges.
The “Vata” This type is usually thin, with coarse curly hair and the head and eyes are small. They typically have trouble gaining weight. The “Pitta” This type will usually be of medium build in height and bone structure. They will have soft skin that is warm to the touch and will bald or go gray early. They like sweet, bitter foods such as candy, green salad, and bananas. They may be assertive and aggressive, highly organized and intelligent and tend to be teachers, doctors, and lawyers.The “Kapha” Kaphas are large boned people who are not tall, but they are the foundation of their society.They have a tendency to be overweight.Hair is thick and wavy.They have small appetites and eat slowly, but are big snackers.They aren’t very active people and prefer repetitious jobs.They are compassionate, forgiving and loving, often becoming social workers, nurses and clergy.It is important to remember that not one person will be just one body type but rather a combination of the three. In Ayurveda, once the body type is understood, a diet constructed to meet your individual needs can be determined.
Ayurvedic Medicine practitioners also believe that there are 6 different tastes that should be enjoyed in the diet:
1. Sweet: Primary sources are carbohydrates, protein and fatsHave a soothing effectBuilds body mass
2. Sour: Primary sources are organic acids such as those found citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, pickled foods, alcohol, etcStimulates the appetite and helps digestion (but can be irritating if you suffer from heartburn
3. Salty: Sources are mineral salts, table salt, soy sauce, salted meats, fishIncreases the appetite and bring out the flavor in foods
4. Bitter: Primary sources are green leafy vegetables, green and yellow vegetables, kale, celery, broccoli, sprouts, beets. Detoxifies the systemsExcess intake may cause gas and/or indigestion
5. Pungent: Sources include Peppers, chilies, onions, garlic, cayenne, black pepper, cloves, ginger, mustard. Stimulates sweating and clears sinuses
6. Astringent: Sources include Lentils, dried beans, green apples, grape skins, cauliflower, pomegranates, tea (and others containing tannin). Astringent foods and herbs squeeze out water stops diarrhea, reduces sweating, and constricts the blood vessels which slows down or stops bleeding. They are anti-inflammatory. Excess use weakens the system and causes premature aging.
Herbs and spices are used in cooking and general diet to improve overall health and make the food more palatable without overusing salt. Antioxidants are mixed into the diet to prevent inflammation-based diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and stroke.The first visit to an ayurvedic practitioner includes collecting an in-depth history of the person’s health, diet and lifestyle, and can last over an hour.
Practitioners approach a physical examination in a different manner. For instance, 12 different pulse points are assessed rather than the three standard ones assessed during an initial Western medicine evaluation.The Ayurveda practitioner will also examine the tongue because they believe it provides clues about areas of the body that may be out of balance.The appearance of the skin, lips, nails and eyes will also be observed, looking for indications of imbalances in organ systems or areas of the body. The practitioner will discuss the individual’s unique balance of body types and make recommendations. From there an individualized treatment plan is created, focusing on diet, exercise, herbs, yoga, meditation and massage. All treatments are aimed at restoring balance to the specific body type of the individual. If you are considering using Ayurvedic Medicine, remember: Do not use Ayurvedic medicine to replace conventional care or to postpone seeing a health care provider about a medical problem. Women who are pregnant or nursing, or people who are thinking of using Ayurvedic approaches to treating a child, should consult their (or their child’s) health care provider. Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help to ensure coordinated and safe care.